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Fair-weather friends

Scotland’s smokers have been quite happy to go alfresco since the ban in pubs came in. But what happens in November when it’s “dreegh” (cold, drizzly and filthy mac-nasty)? Fiona Rintoul reports

Scotland, in the end, did not rage against the dying of the light. The introduction of a ban on smoking in enclosed spaces on 26 March passed without incident. A revolt by dedicated puffers predicted by a BBC poll failed to materialise, and Scottish publicans professed themselves surprised by the good humour with which punters agreed to stub out indoors.

Even on the remote island of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides – home of Whisky Galore, launch pad for the Jacobite Rebellion and a place where there are no resident police and a certain amount of Highland interpretation of the law is surely to be expected – smokers seemed to accept that resistance was futile. “Nobody’s even tried to smoke, and we’ve only had one going outside for a cigarette,” Mrs Campbell, the landlady at the Politician Inn, Eriskay’s only pub, told The Times.

The only apparent display of temper came from the playwright John Byrne. So incensed was the author of Tutti Frutti and The Slab Boys, that he threatened to pull his plays from Scottish theatres (where characters will no longer be allowed to smoke on stage) and put them on in, gulp, London. “I will not have them make a mockery of me by the censorship of an idiotic executive,” the distinguished scribbler raged to The Scotsman.

But as Maureen Moore, chief executive of ASH Scotland, pointed out, Mr Byrne’s position is kind of “short-term”, since “London will be smoke-free in about a year”. And in London and other parts of the UK, pub landlords and bar owners
were broadly breathing a sigh of relief. As PG Wodehouse said, it’s never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine. If the fiery caber-tossing Celts could be persuaded to go into that dark, dark night with barely a whimper, surely it should be possible to subdue the rest of the UK’s smokers when the ban reaches them next year, the trade reasoned.

So there were no riots. But was business down in Scotland’s pubs and clubs, as the Cassandras predicted it would be? It would seem not. A week into the ban, a straw poll of Scottish pubs by The Publican found that nearly half had experienced an increase in trade in the first week. And a month down the line, The Daily Record was hailing the smoking ban as a huge success. “Publicans who had voiced fears it would keep customers away have reported a marked increase in takings a month after the ban was introduced,” the Record said.

Pottering through the streets of Glasgow’s fashionable West End six weeks after the ban was put in place, I certainly found no discernible signs of rancour. Quite the contrary. Smokers seemed to be rather enjoying themselves outside on Byres Road or in the ever-expanding number of beer gardens attached to pubs. I had the impression that some were even engaging in the practice of “smirting” (smoking and flirting with strangers in the doorway), invented in New York when the smoking ban was introduced there.

My suspicions were confirmed by the manageress of the local offie, who reported no rise in purchases of drink to carry out since the ban was introduced, but did say that her cigarette sales had soared. “I think people who don’t smoke are buying cigarettes so they can join in the chat at pub doors,” she opined.

So far, so good, then. But the stiffest test is yet to come in Scotland, however. It was a lovely sunny evening when I was conducting my ad hoc research in the West End, and The Primary, which banned smoking ahead of time, in January, and obtained planning permission for a covered, heated gazebo, was crammed with drinkers, many of whom were smoking. But will they still be there in the winter?

Some publicans clearly have doubts. “A lot of the older guys are not happy about having to stand out in the rain and smoke,” Richard Paxton, licensee at the Thistle Inn in Inverness, told The Publican in the ban’s first week, when the weather generally was less than kind. “Trade has been down 10% this week, and I can’t see it will come back.”

Disgruntled elderly smokers may not come back. But they may be replaced by a new breed of pub-goer. “We’ve seen
a lot of new faces since the ban came in, and a lot of people with kids who might not have come in before,” staff at Hyndland’s Jelly Hill wine bar told me.

Scottish & Newcastle is certainly optimistic. That’s one reason it’s planning to spend heavily on marketing core beer brands in the UK. There’s every chance the ban on smoking in pubs could lead to more people using them, causing consumption of beer to increase modestly, S&N’s finance director Ian McHoul said in The Herald.


Peter Anderson, duty manager, Uisge Beatha
“It’s been hard for us to tell what effect the ban has had because the timing was awkward. A lot of our customers are students, and the week after the ban came in there were exams, and then there was a three-week holiday. In the first week, business was definitely down, but since then it’s been up and down, which is normal. October, November will be the really testing time, however. But, you know, it annoys me a bit the way people throw statistics about regarding banning smoking. I heard that 120 pubs had shut in the south of Ireland since the ban was introduced there, but bars open and close all the time. It might have nothing to do with the smoking ban.”

David Rae, bartender, The Halt Bar
“The effect of the smoking ban hasn’t been too adverse so far, and we didn’t have any problems introducing it. A few people lit up, but that was really just by accident. I would say there hasn’t been a dramatic increase or decrease in business. The timing of the ban was quite good, though, because the weather has been good since it was introduced. The real test will come in the winter months.”

Kirsty McGill, account manager, Alexander Wines
“I don’t think it’s had an adverse effect on our business, probably the reverse. A lot of people are buying more food and therefore more drink. People are still adjusting to it, but I think people who don’t smoke are going out more. I’m not a smoker myself, and I go out more because I won’t come home smelling like a smoke factory. In any case, there’s nothing anyone can do about it, so everyone will just have to get used to it. A lot of our customers see it as a relatively positive thing.”

Allan Vose, wine buyer, Peckhams
“There certainly hasn’t been any impact that we could tell so far in our off-licences. Our business is growing consistently, but I couldn’t honestly say that that’s in any way related to the smoking ban. Our restaurants were non-smoking anyway, so there won’t be any impact there.”

db June 2006

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